The coffee went down like silk. The warm, creamy colored liquid swirled around in my cup as I sat it down on the table beside me.
Leaning back in my chair I was struck by the bright morning sky. It was a beautiful vibrant day. The kind of day that makes you glad to be alive. I took another glorious sip from my coffee mug and reveled in spreading warmth of the new day.
Morning on our front porch was a special time of day for me. The sun had only been up for an hour or so. Things were still relatively quiet. Not much traffic yet, not much commotion. I enjoyed sitting there in the silence of my inner world, thinking about my life, meditating on the reason for my existence in this vast cosmos. I treasured these few quiet minutes in the morning.
And then I saw him.
He had turned the corner and was walking up our street. In a few short seconds he would be walking past me on the sidewalk, not fifteen feet from where I was sitting.
On no! I thought. I had a lot to do this morning, errands to run, little projects to finish, my day was going to be busy. I couldn’t spend the next hour sitting and talking to him.
But just as I had feared, he saw me out of the corner of his eye and stopped.
“Is that chair taken?” He asked, smiling and pointing to the empty lawn chair on the other side of the small table.
My heart sunk.
“Why no.” I said, glancing in the direction of the chair. “Why don’t you come over and join me?” I asked. Forcing as big a smile as I could muster.
It was Gail out for his morning stroll. A charming enough resident of our condo complex who was in his 80’s. You saw him often here and there. He was active in about anything that was going on. But one thing you soon found out about Gail was that he loved to talk. And he was always on the lookout for someone to do it with, whether you wanted to or not.
Gail walked over and settled into the chair across from me. With a wide smile and a twinkle in his eye he began to tell me of his many doctor visits and the various ailments that precipitated them.
I leaned back in my chair and saw my carefully planned morning fly out the window as Gail talked and gestured with his hands. Every once in a while I would nod and smile in his direction while he pontificated from one subject to another.
Soon the subject changed and we were talking about his career as a teacher and school administrator, his childhood and some of the lessons his father taught him growing up, then his late wife and then his children.
Occasionally I would offer a comment or a question to keep my side of the conversation relevant. But mostly I sat and listened.
“How did you meet your wife?” I asked.
This brought a little chuckle from Gail as he reminisced from days long ago about how he offered his future bride a ride home for the holidays from college, since he was going her way.
“One thing led to another.” He said. “And before you knew it we were dating.” This brought another chuckle from Gail as he told me about their courtship.
As Gail continued to sit there and talk, I noticed something funny happening. The annoyance I felt when he first sat down next to me, the frustration I experienced with all my errands and plans running through my head? That all eventually evaporated as I slowly became captivated by this man’s genuineness and warmth.
I knew Gail lived alone. I knew he must be lonely. I could tell by the expressions on his face that this was a treat for him to be able to verbally reminisce with someone who was willing to sit there and listen.
“Well, I better be on my way.” He said as he slowly rose from the chair and stood up.
“I sure appreciate you taking the time to let me visit with you.” He said as he shook my hand and headed for the sidewalk in front of us.
“Maybe we can do it again sometime.” He turned and waved to me with a wide smile and went on his way down the sidewalk.
I looked at my watch. It had been an hour since Gail had sat down next to me. But it had only seemed like a few minutes.
Over the next few months, I learned a lot about listening. How to slow down and put life on hold for a moment. How to sit quietly, patiently, as someone else besides you took center stage, sharing their life with you.
Over the summer Gail told me what it was like growing up in the depression. How he paid his way through college. Found his first teaching job. Raised a family, became a widower and eventually retired, moving to the other side of the state.
Our morning visits became routine and I looked forward to them. Sitting in the early morning sun with my coffee and waiting for Gail to walk by. My contribution to the conversations would be minimal. A nod here, a question there. This was Gail’s time and I sensed that.